Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward
Sir: It becomes my painful duty to inform you of another outrage on the British legation, which has terminated fatally.
Colonel St. John Neale, her British Majesty’s chargé d’affaires, arrived in Japan on the 23d of May last. He has been confined to his house for some weeks by sickness, from which he is not yet entirely recovered. Several private notes passed between us while he was detained at Yokohama, on the subject of the state of feeling in Yedo, in relation to which many unfounded and highly exaggerated rumors prevailed there. I was finally informed by Colonel Neale that he had determined to take up his residence in this city, which he accordingly did on the 11th instant.
On the night of the 26th instant, when the British legation was surrounded by a Japanese guard of five hundred and eighty-five men, and was also guarded by thirty marines and sailors from her Britannic Majesty’s steamer Renard, and by a lieutenant, sergeant, and twelve men from the military mounted train, the sentinel, a sailor from the Renard, stationed at the chamber door of Colonel Neale, was desperately wounded by a Japanese, and died during the day.
Colonel Neale was aroused by the cries of the wounded man, as was also the corporal of the British guard, a marine from the Renard, who was in the vicinity [Page 1034] going the rounds. The corporal was then attacked, and almost instantly killed; but not until he had succeeded in firing his revolver.
For the particulars of this affair, as far as they have transpired, I beg to refer you to the following enclosures: No. 1, Mr. Neale to Mr. Pruyn; No. 2, Mr. Pruyn to the ministers of foreign affairs; No. 3, Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Neale.
Not having received any communication from the ministers of foreign affairs, I wrote to them the next morning a letter, a copy of which I transmit, (enclosure No. 4.)
In the afternoon of that day one of the governors of foreign affairs, the senior governor of Kanagawa, came to the legation, and, after saying that an officer had been directed the previous day to give me all the information in their possion, (which had not been done,) he assured me that the visit of one of the governors had been prevented by their engagements, till near midnight, in the necessary investigation of the affair. I called his attention to the necessity of energetic action; and that it would be of great advantage to the Japanese government to anticipate, as far as possible, any requirements of the British government. I assured him that I did not wish that any innocent person should suffer; and that it was a principle of law that it was better that the guilty should escape rather than that innocent persons should be punished. I asked whether any arrests had been made.
The governor then made the following statement: One of the Japanese guard had been suddenly seized with a kind of madness, and it was suspected he alone had been engaged in the attack. He had been found dead with a bullet in his body, and that he had committed suicide. That, as I was aware, a spear or lance had been found, and they hoped by that means to trace the other assailants, if more than one had been engaged.
I called his attention to the fact that the corporal had twenty wounds—some made with a sword, others with a lance; that it appeared to me, in view of the number of wounds inflicted, and the fact that some were in front and others in the back, that more than one person must have been engaged in the attack. That while it properly belonged to Colonel Neale to indicate what he should expect to be done to effect the arrest of all who had participated in or been privy to the outrage, my friendship for the Japanese government induced me to say, that I had carefully examined the premises; that whether one or more were engaged in the attack, it was evident that no one could have escaped from the premises without directly passing by one of the guard-houses; and that, as the guard had been alarmed by the pistol-shot and noise, such escape could not have been effected without the knowledge of some of their number; that traces of blood could be seen leading to one of the guard-houses in a different direction from that taken by the deceased soldiers; that one of the Japanese guard had admitted he had seen the assassin—had claimed, as a ground of merit, that he had fought with and been wounded by him, and then had run to the guard-house to give the alarm. That it unfortunately happened that the guard-house was within sight and call of this guard, and of the transaction; that his wound was a slight scratch on the back of his leg, sustained while he was running away; and that his flight had given an opportunity for the attack on the corporal, who was coming to his aid; and that if he had done his duty the life of the corporal would have been saved, and the assailant, if only one, killed or arrested. That it was idle to have any guard, unless it was perfectly understood that all would be held to a strict responsibility; that I would advise that a rigid examination be at once instituted; that every one guilty of cowardice or neglect of duty should be at once arrested, and when that was done I was of opinion that the government would be in possession of information which was now withheld by some of the guard.
The governor admitted the force of these suggestions, and said he was satisfied that there had been criminal negligence and great cowardice.[Page 1035]
As Mr. de Wit, the consul general of the Netherlands, was in the city on a visit for a few weeks, I visited the British legation in his company on the receipt of Mr. Neale’s letter, and there, very fortunately, found Monsieur de Bellecourt, the minister of his Imperial Majesty, who had come up from Yokohama to consult with his colleagues on another subject, not having heard of the attack.
We at once assured Mr. Neale of our sympathy, and of our disposition to view this affair as one in which our governments had a deep interest. I informed Mr. Neale that I had addressed the ministers of foreign affairs immediately on the receipt of his letter, and briefly acquainted him with the contents of my letter. He expressed himself highly pleased.
It is the intention of Colonel Neale, as he informed me, to wait for the instructions of his government.
We then discussed the propriety of uniting in a letter to the ministers. I called their attention to a fact, which I had learned from Mr. de Wit the previous day, that in February the ministers had distinctly admitted that the ancient law of Japan, punishing with death any foreigner found within the empire, had never been repealed, and that this was, therefore, an invitation and provocation to these assaults. Monsieur de Bellecourt also remarked, that the ratification of the treaty with France used the language, “The Tycoon of Japan, in the empire of the Mikado;” that the ministers had admitted to him and Mr. Alcock that the treaties had never been ratified by the Mikado, while I was able to state that Mr. Harris had informed me that the ministers had declared that they had been ratified, except so far as related to Osacca. It was finally concluded that it was best to raise no questions which would imply a doubt as to the validity of the treaties, or any concern as to the existence of the law in question, and that the ministers of France and the Netherlands should individually address the ministers, as I had already done.
Nothing has yet transpired which enables me to inform you of the cause of the outrage.
On the night of the attack the American legation, about a mile distant, had a guard of two hundred and eighty-four Japanese officers and men, as appears from the return furnished at my request. The legation of the Netherlands, of which Mr. de Wit was the sole inmate, had also a Japanese guard. Although neither of these legations required so large a guard as the British legation, I am satisfied that the latter was the best protected of the three, even in the absence of the numerous attache’s and the guard of fifty-four British officers and sailors armed with carbines and revolvers. If hostility to foreigners instigated the attack, it appears remarkable that it should have been made in this quarter. It therefore occurred to me that a quarrel between some of the British and Japanese guard might have occasioned it. Colonel Neale says he is not aware of any such provocation, though it was possible that offence may have been given by the presence of British soldiers and sailors.
I can only assign this motive: The attack took place, according to the Japanese computation of time, just one night after the anniversary of the attack in 1861, and it is possible that some one or more of the friends of the parties who lost their lives in that attack, or were subsequently punished for it, may have sought the gratification of their vengeance. And, as it was a holiday in some parts of Yedo, the joint stimulus of revenge and intoxication may have induced it.
As it is very probable that the President and yourself may be pleased to hear what I think of my own safety, I beg to remark, that my position cannot be said to be free from danger. Only a few days since one of the governors for foreign affairs informed me there was a decided improvement in the feeling of the people, and that it would not be long before every part of Japan might be visited with safety. Yet it cannot be disguised that all the officers of the western powers in Japan are sentinels in the outposts of civilization. It is here [Page 1036] as with our own Indian tribes. The first notice of the attack is written in the blood which it causes to flow. The bolt comes out of an unclouded sky.
I think, however, that the fact that I never go armed, which is well known to the officers, and that I rely entirely upon the Japanese for protection, are favorable to my safety.
I can only add that I am extremely careful to avoid unnecessary exposure, and I indulge the hope that under the good providence of God our intercourse with Japan may continue unstained by blood.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.